The OF Blog: I have decided to do something almost suicidal

Saturday, June 27, 2009

I have decided to do something almost suicidal

I have decided that over the next couple of years, I'm going to read (re-read in many cases) and write (for those I haven't before) at least some sort of capsule review for the 50 books in Gollancz's Fantasy Masterworks series. Below is the list and highlighted in bold are the ones I've read, with italics for the ones I own but haven't yet read in full:

  1. The Book of the New Sun, Volume 1: Shadow and Claw Gene Wolfe
  2. Time and the Gods Lord Dunsany
  3. The Worm Ouroboros E.R. Eddison
  4. Tales of the Dying Earth Jack Vance
  5. Little, Big John Crowley
  6. The Chronicles of Amber Roger Zelazny
  7. Viriconium M. John Harrison
  8. The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle Robert E. Howard
  9. The Land of Laughs Jonathan Carroll
  10. The Complete Enchanter: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt
  11. Lud-in-the-Mist Hope Mirrlees
  12. The Book of the New Sun, Volume 2: Sword and Citadel Gene Wolfe
  13. Fevre Dream George R. R. Martin
  14. Beauty Sheri S. Tepper
  15. The King of Elfland’s Daughter Lord Dunsany
  16. The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon Robert E. Howard
  17. Elric Michael Moorcock
  18. The First Book of Lankhmar Fritz Leiber
  19. Riddle-Master Patricia A. McKillip
  20. Time and Again Jack Finney
  21. Mistress of Mistresses E.R. Eddison
  22. Gloriana or the Unfulfill’d Queen Michael Moorcock
  23. The Well of the Unicorn Fletcher Pratt
  24. The Second Book of Lankhmar Fritz Leiber
  25. Voice of Our Shadow Jonathan Carroll
  26. The Emperor of Dreams Clark Ashton Smith
  27. Lyonesse I: Suldrun’s Garden Jack Vance
  28. Peace Gene Wolfe
  29. The Dragon Waiting John M. Ford
  30. Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe Michael Moorcock
  31. Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams C.L. Moore
  32. The Broken Sword Poul Anderson
  33. The House on the Borderland and Other Novels William Hope Hodgson
  34. The Drawing of the Dark Tim Powers
  35. Lyonesse II and III: The Green Pearl and Madouc Jack Vance
  36. The History of Runestaff Michael Moorcock
  37. A Voyage to Arcturus David Lindsay
  38. Darker Than You Think Jack Williamson
  39. The Mabinogion Evangeline Walton
  40. Three Hearts & Three Lions Poul Anderson
  41. Grendel John Gardner
  42. The Iron Dragon’s Daughter Michael Swanwick
  43. WAS Geoff Ryman
  44. Song of Kali Dan Simmons
  45. Replay Ken Grimwood
  46. Sea Kings of Mars and Other Worldly Stories Leigh Brackett
  47. The Anubis Gates Tim Powers
  48. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld Patricia A. McKillip
  49. Something Wicked This Way Comes Ray Bradbury
  50. The Mark of the Beast and Other Fantastical Tales Rudyard Kipling
So...which ones on this list have you read? Which ones that I haven't read that you have would you most recommend to me and why?


Liviu said...

It's an interesting project though I kind of do not see its point outside of your interest in the books themselves - lots of people can put up lots of lists and call them masterworks, books you need to read before you die and the like and I always shrug...

Many, many years ago I had a Nobel prize winner book (it was up to early 1980's) and I tried to read as much as it was then available for me from the works there as well as for some of each year "misses" (there was a discussion before each Nobelist with some names that missed that year) and that made more sense as a general guide to 20th century literature, though I would not dispute it had its own faults - I probably managed to read something from 70-80% of the authors I think though I would have to go through them for sure, but luckily a lot was available in Romanian translation and even more luckily I had access to it.

Liviu said...

And that book had one funny page - the 1970 winner which had name and it was empty otherwise; the rest had quite elaborate discussions (even Pasternak or Milosz, several pages each with biography, works, the year other notable authors, but the 1970 one was a one liner page) Of course that made even more eager to read that author but I managed to do it only here some years later...

Lsrry said...

Yeah, I'm doing this for my own self-interest. I'm curious to see how many of these works will resonate with me and how many will piss me off with outdated social views being embedded in the text :P

Interesting bit on that 1970 Nobel winner. I wonder why that was the case for that book...

Mike said...

I openly admit I've yet to read a single one of those, although I have Gene Wolfe's Shadow and Claw and Harrison's Viriconium on my TBR pile.

I don't put much stock into classics, personally. If they're timeless or genre-altering, sweet, they might be interesting to me, but I wouldn't pick up Jane Eyre or The Iliad just because they've been categorized as something important, same goes for Speculative Fiction.

Of course, I don't read at 1/20th the speed you do, so such an endeavor is not quite the monumental task it would be for me. =P

Martin said...

The Iron Dragon's Daughter is very good and - I think - very important.

Michelle said...

From this list I've only read "Replay" and "Fevre Dreams" (both were recommended to me). "Replay" has an interesting premise, but it drags quite a bit along the way and has a very unsatisfying end (at least in my opinion). "Fevre Dreams" was a joy to read - partly because it's such a refreshingly "male" vampire novel between all the female authors doing the genre nowadays.

Oliver said...

I've started something similar sometime ago, but droppted it quickly as I'm a much slower reader then you are. (I've just finished book #40 for this year.)
I've read seventeen titles: Tales of the Dying Earth, Viriconium, the entire Conan Chronicles, Fevre Dream, The King of Elfland’s Daughter, Elric, the entire Lankhmar stuff, Gloriana or the Unfulfill’d Queen, The Emperor of Dreams, Corum: The Prince in the Scarlet Robe, Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams, The Broken Sword, The History of Runestaff, Three Hearts & Three, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, Sea Kings of Mars and Other Worldly Stories and finally The Anubis Gates.
Of those I've read and you haven't, I can recommand just two: Martin's Fever Dream, which is a suspense-packed vampire novel with mississippi-steamboats, and Swanwick's The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, which is a revisionist fantasy with cruel capitalist elves & fairies and an artificial dragon with a serious bend on revange. While I'm not sure whether Fever Dream is a worthy bearer of the the title "masterwork" or not, for it isn't overly original (the vampires reminde me somewhat on Suzy McKee Charnas' Vampire Tapestry, which is a very good vampire story), it is a good read. Now The Iron Dragon’s Daughter is quite good - I still wonder, why there wasn't much more talk about it, when New Weird an acute moment.
Sorry about the length.


Brian Lindenmuth said...

I hadn't realized that Was by Geoff Ryman was a part of the series. That's a book that has stuck with me over the years.

marco said...

Of the ones you haven't read and I have I'd suggest

-A Voyage to Arcturus
-Something Wicked this Way Comes
-The House on the Borderland and other novels
-Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams (though I haven't read it, I did read most of the stories in it)

followed from a distance by

The Drawing of the Dark
Three Hearts and Three Lions
The Dragon Waiting

marco said...

Er, yes, the "whys"

Arcturus and Grendel are extremely suggestive philosophical novels, with profound themes, vivid imagery and inventive style. Something wicked is the quintessential coming of age dark fantasy.
The House on the Borderland and The Night Land (in HOB and other novels) are among the first examples of the "dying earth" subgenre and blend together gothic/Lovecraftian horror and science-fiction.

On reflection, I'd have to demote Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams. While I deeply love many of C.L. Moore's stories, none of those involve of her sci-fantasy heroes Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith.

The reamaining three - Dark/Dragon/Hearts are just alternate histories with magic which I enjoyed more than others.

Terry Weyna said...

It looks to me like you haven't fully discovered Tim Powers yet. I think you will enjoy his work, especially because I know you like James Blaylock, and they play in the same sandbox. Both The Drawing of the Dark and The Anubis Gates are early Powers, but they are both wonderful. I particularly enjoy Powers's treatment of the Romantic poets in the latter book.

You are a brave man to be rereading the Gene Wolfe books; I find those as dense as the thickest fudge, which is a good thing in many ways, but which I find takes enormous concentration. Very hard for me to really comprehend well after a half day of practicing law, so I can only imagine trying to read them after a day of teaching especially challenging students. You have my somewhat awed respect.

I'm surprised to see Tepper's Beauty on that list. I'd put The Gate to Women's Country there of her works -- earlier Tepper, but done with considerably more finesse (and attention to story rather than polemic -- though perhaps I repeat myself in a way).

I loved Ken Grimwood's Replay and did not find that it dragged at all, but then, I'm a fool for the "Groundhog Day" scenario (which understates the power of Grimwood's work, but gives an idea of the theme).

I've read only 14 books on this list, but own a great many of them. This is why I invariably have a terrible time deciding what to read next -- new or old? Library book or from the shelves? ARC or something older? I wish I had twice the lifetime I'll have, because I'm never going to be able in a single lifetime to read everything I want to read -- even if I limited myself to SF/F/H.

Chad Hull said...

I've threatened myself a few times with re-reading Wolfe. No matter how much I initially enjoyed the work, I always manage to talk myself into reading something new. I actually like Peace more than The Book of the New Sun, but the awareness of the fact that the book I'm reading for enjoyment is giving me a headache is a bit much to handle.

I've recently discovered Swanwick. Love his short stories, I'll be curious to know what you say about the novel.

McKillip doesn't click with me for some reason; perhaps I should give her a second shot.

Moorcock and Vance are brilliant and I can't wait to hear what you say about Powers.

MattD said...

It may be financial suicide (unless they're supplying the books?), but otherwise I'm thinking poor Larry, he's reading a bunch of good books. ;) Are you committed to reading the Gollancz editions? I got a very nice copy of the US edition of Was from Amazon for just $5 a year or two ago, for example.

I enjoyed many of the books you've still to read...the Gardner, Swanwick, and Ryman for the way they subvert famous tales and types of tales, McKillip for the language, Simmons and Martin for the cultural portrayals (I suspect you may like the Martin in particular for it's southern setting; the Simmons was interesting but I wonder how I'd react to it now as a reader more schooled in issues of cultural appropriation), the Lindsay just for being a classic that still has depth and reads well, the Ford for its multifacetedness (which I suppose is a quality of The Anubis Gates as well, although it's my least favorite of Powers's major works).

(I haven't read the two Pratt books, Finney, the second Eddison, Moore, Anderson, Bracket, Bradbury, and Kipling.)

Lsrry said...

Nah, I'm not buying the entire Gollancz editions, although I will pick those up if they are available and the price is cheap (most of the time, I'm paying about $10-15, with shipping included for new to very good-condition used books). The Ryman one, for example, will likely be my next purchase and since for the next two months, I will collect two separate paychecks (deferred payments from my old job, plus my new one), I actually have the money to spare and then some for once.

As for the Wolfe, well...I like them both, but I guess I should have said that while I will re-read the ones I already own, I might just make do with the reviews I've already written. Capsule reviews are likely for some, depending on time constraints. But by the end of 2010, I hope to have written something on each of those 50 books, something at least 200 words in length, if not 2000.

Hal Duncan said...

Grendel and The Iron Dragon's Daughter. They're both classic anti-fantasies of a sort, philsophical/poltical reversals of the polarities. And great reads to boot.

Patrick said...

I've been slowly acquiring and reading the 60+ books in the SF Masterworks series. There is some good stuff there but it is biased based on what they were able to get the rights to.

I still can't get my hands on the specific SF Masterworks edition of The Invisible Man for completion's sake.

Ben said...

I've been undertaking the same quest (minus the reviews) for the past 4 or 5 years. I stalled without about 15 to go a year or so ago and haven't been able to rebuild momentum to get going again unfortunately. There's some really good books in there, and some others, that, well, .... at least the set looks good on the shelf???

The Mad Hatter said...

That's quite a lofty goal. I'd recommend Ferve Dream. It definitely stands the test of time and is probably my favorite vampire book. It also gives you a good flavor of being on a riverboat, which is an interesting perspective.

Anonymous said...

I typed the names of my three favorite authors and hit search and found a list of novels very close to some in my collection. I own every book I've ever read which goes back almost fifty years. I was lucky enough to start reading sci-fi and fantasy when Robert Silverberg was in his golden period from 1967 to 1972 and my tastes have run that direction. Oh, by the way, I typed in Tim Powers, Jack Vance, and Michael Moorcock

Rob J said...

Some great choices. Good to see Tim
Powers in the list.

He is one of the finest writers in the SF/Fantasy genre.
"The Stress Of Her Regards" "On Stranger Tides","Last Call" and "Declare" are unlike anything I have read in or outside of any genre and deserve checking out.

It was also good to see Clark Asheton Smith who I thought was a far better writer than HP Lovecraft,but has been out of print for many decades.

There are lots of old favourites the list like Wolfe,Leiber etc. I don't read so much SF/fantasy these days, but Neil Gaiman, China Mielville and Gwyneth Jones are worth reading for those folks who like challenging fantasy writing.

Anonymous said...

Last year I read "A Voyage to Arcturus" by David Lindsay. Despite its age it's one of the most colorful and original books I have read in recent years.

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